Paulo Dybala, Juventus still licking their wounds ahead of trip to Sassuolo
Many were quick to hail Paulo Dybala after his performances in Serie A this season. Scoring goals and inspiring play with his mere presence, La Joya was living up to the expectations one has of a player donning the No.10 jersey for Juventus.
And then there were the sceptics. Those who felt that while the Argentine's talent can never be doubted, his mental strength could. When it comes to the big occasions, Dybala has performed inconsistently. Against Milan in the Supercoppa last year, he missed the penalty. In the Champions League final against Real Madrid, he vanished and against Barcelona a few days ago, he was a shadow of himself. Yes, he may have indeed performed against the Catalans in the quarterfinals last season but consistency is what is required from a future great.
Of course, we cannot be too critical of a youngster still developing his game but Dybala is not that young when you compare him to the likes of Kylian Mbappe (18) and Marco Asensio (21) who have both already proved their mettle on the big stage. About to turn 24 in a few months, Dybala may be Juve's best player but still not a man they can depend on in the big occasions. He feels the pressure too intensely, struggling to strike with composure or playing to the levels we expect of him.
Too often he can be found trying to solve problems all on his own when he needs to keep it simple and remember just how much of an impact he can make when he plays with a free mind, unburdened by the pressure to be Lionel Messi's heir.
Regular readers may wonder why this blog rarely criticises Gonzalo Higuain in the same vein considering how ineffective he has proved on the big occasions. The reason being is that Juventus knew what they were buying when they chose him. The Argentine striker has bottled it several times over the years both for club and country and will never be a striker who can resolve situations alone like his former partner Karim Benzema managed. This was the major reason it was Benzema who stuck at Madrid and why it was Higuain who was forced to move on. He does not boast the talent of Dybala and so it's unrealistic to expect him to perform sensationally now.
Why he certainly needs to feel the pressure and be made to improve, he has always been a striker who performs better when he is provided with the right service. His movement is still excellent while you can never fault his overall contribution to the cause. He's simply limited in a way Dybala isn't and is therefore spared of too much criticism.
The defeat to Barcelona was indeed a humiliation and a cause for concern. It must be noted that Massimiliano Allegri was without several first-team players and Juve have yet to find their rhythm and the right formation considering all the changes to the squad. That being said, the defence was and remains absurdly weak.
Conceding eight goals in five competitive games is hugely disappointing for any Italian side, let alone one renowned for its solidity at the back. The absence of Giorgio Chiellini always causes problems at the back but both he and Andrea Barzagli are getting old now and cannot always be relied upon to give everything both physically and mentally. Daniele Rugani struggled against Genoa and needs more time to prove he's up for the challenges Juventus face throughout a season while Medhi Benatia will never be the player he was at Roma -- proving catastrophic on Tuesday evening.
Having had time to lick their wounds and process the latest European defeat, the Bianconeri will be keen to return to winning ways when they face Sassuolo away on Sunday afternoon. Rugani is likely to recapture his place in the starting lineup while it appears both Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner will return to the full-back positions.
Sassuolo will be without Domenico Berardi yet again and people have grown suspicious of the player's absence in matches against the Old Lady. In fact, the whispers grew so loud that Paolo Cannavaro had no choice but to post a picture of Berardi's injury on social media to quell the rumours and prove his teammates' innocence.
Berardi's absence will be deeply felt by a side that have struggled thus far this season. In three games, they have registered no victories and managed only one goal. However, teething problems are to be expected when a side changes managers and new manager Cristian Bucchi has asked for patience as he sets about transmitting his own tactical ideals. Under his tutelage, you can see the team growing and they should not be underestimated.
While the Neroverdi are set to play a 3-5-2, the Bianconeri are likely to rely on a 4-2-3-1 shape but should ideally rest Dybala considering how busy these next few weeks will be. If the loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final taught us anything, it is that rotation is vital to ensure the best players are fresh both mentally and physically for a big final push at the end of the season.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.